Thursday, September 12, 2002

I Heart My NY

Nobody posted anything on September 11th, and I thought it was appropriate for something to be said, even a day late.

When I first entered this world, the world I entered was New York. My first sense of place and space and home was shaped by the streets of Manhattan. New York is mine because when my school was under construction and the student body was homeless, the city was my classroom; my uniformed classmates and I traipsed all over New York with our teachers, learning from the city instead of simply within it. It's mine because I once spent four hours sitting on the steps of the public library people-watching. It's mine because I've been reading the real estate section of The New York Times since I was eleven to try to figure out which New York neighborhood will still be semi-affordable when I graduate. It's mine because I've left my mark there: I carved my name on a tree in Central Park, I scraped my knees on sidewalks, I once lost a tooth in my favorite playground on East End Avenue. It's mine because being there gives me comfort and not stress: when I felt suffocated by the monotony of New York suburbia, it was my escape, and the only escape I ever needed. It's mine because it has forever imbued in me open-mindedness, street smarts, common sense, confidence, a love of culture, and a rejection of ignorance. This is my New York.

New York was always mine, and I was always proud, even snobby about it. I clung to what New York was for me, and turned my nose on what it to many tourists: an urban Disneyland whose highlights included the Manhattan Mall, the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, F.A.O. Schwartz, and the Bronx Zoo. When I passed by obvious tourists -- camera-and-umbrella-toting, too-large-"I-heart-NY"-shirt-wearing, subway-map-squinting tourists -- I sighed. How could they love -- or even "heart" New York --when they didn't know it at all? I was more partial to shirts that read "Welcome to New York!" on the front and "Now get out" on the back. But when I showed people around, be it my clueless born and raised in suburbia friends or enthusiastic visitors from out of town, I showed them my New York, what was, to me, the real New York.

On September 11th, something suddenly changed. New York was not just mine; New York no longer belonged exclusively to New Yorkers. New York City suddenly was real for everybody, and truly belonged to everybody. It belonged to all the tourists whom I'd scoffed at, to all the people who'd never made it there, to everybody who had ever loved anybody or anything. I love New York with everything in me, and I have for as long as I can remember. But on September 11th, we all mourned together. We all loved New York together.

A year later, nobody has forgotten. Everybody I know still has a soft spot for New York that they hadn't had before. When I was in the wilderness of western Canada a month ago, a local asked me where I was from. I told her. She replied only: "Where were you when it happened?" One year has passed, but the memory of that day is so vivid and the pain so fresh, that it hardly seems possible. I'm no longer eager to claim New York as exclusively mine. Every citizen of the world has stock in what New York City and its people have come to represent. I only hope that the anniversary of September 11th is marked by genuine remembrance and reflection, not by blind patriotism and kitsch worthy of the Manhattan Mall. We shouldn't need plastic flags and TV specials to help us remember. As President Bush was quoted as saying on December 11th, "In time, perhaps, we will mark the memory of September 11 in stone and metal, something we can show children as yet unborn to help them understand what happened on this minute and on this day. But for those of us who lived through these events, the only marker we'll ever need is the tick of a clock at the 46th minute of the eighth hour of the 11th day."

originally posted by me at Fire & Ice

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